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UGA professor narrates a new 20-episode lecture series 

Thursday, April 27, 2023 - 10:34am
Alan Flurry

More than a year in the making, a new lecture series featuring University of Georgia faculty member Suzanne Pilaar Birch "Early Humans: Ice, Stone, and Survival" is now streaming on Wondrium. The 20-episode series tells the story of humanity's journey from our earliest origins in Africa to the emergence of agriculture, examines the role of climate and environmental change in driving these transitions, and how archaeological science is helping us go beyond the dig to discover more than we ever dreamed possible.

Birch, associate professor of anthropology and geography in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, filmed a pilot for the series prior to the pandemic. A script writing process followed and the series was filmed in March 2022. 

“The lectures span from our earliest origins in Africa to the emergence of agriculture, examines the role of climate and environmental change in driving these transitions, and how archaeological science is transforming this knowledge,” Birch said.

Episode 6 about Neanderthals includes the latest research on their lifeways—and how these newer discoveries and reinterpretations of old ones provide a much different perspective on their ‘humanity’. Episode 5 charts other recently discovered fossil relatives, such as the mysterious Denisovans from a cave in the Altai Mountains, Siberia, who were likely adapted to living in high elevations; one of them, a young female nicknamed ‘Denny’, was a first-generation hybrid between Neanderthals and Denisovans. Birch also talks about Homo floresiensis (sometimes referred to as "the Hobbit") and Homo luzonensis, both apparently dwarf species discovered on islands in southeast Asia, and Homo naledi in South Africa, where UGA Ph.D. student Hannah Morris was part of the original excavation team.

The series also examines the initial peopling of Australia (ep 7) and North America (ep 15), the origins of music, language, art, and technology, and the origins of agriculture (the last four episodes). “It's a very well-rounded exploration both in terms of temporal and spatial scope,” Birch said.

Birch emphasized the importance of the series in the context of current public knowledge and understanding of our shared human past. 

“We know people are interested in this topic. Yet, for some reason, pseudoarchaeology and conspiracy theories have dominated the narrative for the past several years,” she said, noting the shift in the History channel programming and one of its most popular shows, ‘Ancient Aliens’, as well as the Netflix show ‘Ancient Apocalypse’. 

“Not only are these theories wrong, they are also dangerous in that many of them are rooted in colonial and racist, white supremacist ideologies. We need more programming that shares all the wonder and excitement of our ancient past without the need for false embellishment. It's interesting enough in its own right, and what makes it even more  exciting is all that we can learn from the science,” Birch said.

The series “Early Humans: Ice, Stone, and Survival" is now streaming at Wondrium and also available as an audiobook through Audible.


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